Sixth graders in downtown Brooklyn chose to advocate for increased accessibility for New Yorkers with disabilities. During the Research Phase of their project, the students learned that a City Council bill requiring fully accessible taxis had been stalled. To help encourage a vote on the bill, they organized a postcard campaign to the Council Speaker. They wrote a powerful letter encouraging families in their community to join the campaign (see below).  Their project culminated with an advocacy presentation for their City Council member during which they persuaded him to help bring the bill up for a vote by the full Council.

Letter to the school community

“Right now only 2% of our taxis are accessible and the mayor is trying to sign a contract for more new taxis that are not accessible. A majority of City Council members support a bill to make all NYC taxis accessible but a vote has not been scheduled. We believe all new taxis should be accessible, so we started a postcard campaign hoping it will help persuade the City Council to schedule a vote. This week, we went out to the Metro Tech esplanade near our school and collected more than 130 signatures. We are planning to collect many more signatures. Many people oppose the speaker’s thinking. It doesn’t harm you at all in any way to sign a postcard and help people with disabilities. If we can get enough signatures we can get a vote. Please help!”

Black Lives Matter

Fourth and fifth graders in an SLP Lab chose to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Their project, which focused on race and policing in NYC, explored critical questions: What are the principles of the Black Lives Matter movement? Do policing practices in NYC violate these principles? What can concerned New Yorkers do to help? To raise awareness and inspire New Yorkers to be part of much needed change, the students organized a virtual town hall. The event included conversations with Dominique Johnson, Senior Director of Community Engagement at the Center for Policing Equity, and Edwin Raymond, a Lieutenant of the NYPD and a subject of the Emmy award-winning documentary Crime + Punishment, which gives an inside look into the life and struggles of police officers trying to be change agents from within. The event was a truly profound experience for the students and the more than 50 New Yorkers who attended. View the video of their powerful presentation and discussion here.

Access to Public Libraries

Fourth graders began their project concerned that, following a devastating flood at their local branch, they would no longer have access to a public library. Early in the Research Phase, they discovered that, although their local library was, in fact, set to reopen, many communities around Vermont had no access to a library – or the many vital services that libraries provide such as internet access, reading groups, community gathering spaces, and educational enrichment activities. They decided to both support the rebuilding of their local branch and to help ensure library access for under-served communities. In response to an awareness-raising campaign organized by the students, community members donated books to help rebuild the Stowe Free Library collection, as well as sufficient funds to cover the expense of setting up five Tiny Free Libraries in rural communities around the state- all of which are many miles away from the nearest library. Their advocacy was highlighted in this article published by the Stowe Reporter.

PTA Equity

Fifth graders in Carroll Gardens chose to address the ways in which income inequality contributes to educational inequities. Although funding disparities are not the only factor, they were shocked to learn that, while a handful of New York City schools raise significant funds from their parent community, the vast majority raise little to no PTA funds. Often used to bring in critical resources including enrichment programs, teacher training, and new curricula, this discrepancy perpetuates and deepens existing disparities among schools. After meeting with an advocate from Citizens Committee for Children, and learning that Brownsville schools are the most under-resourced in Brooklyn, the students hatched a plan to lessen the funding gap between two schools serving very different communities and created an advocacy “pitch” for their school’s PTA to partner with an elementary school in Brownsville. Deeply moved by their presentation, their PTA agreed to commit $2,000 over two years to purchase backpacks and school supplies for 300 students at the Brownsville school.